Brush & Nib: Breanna Koski (left) and Joanna Duka (right)
Joanna Duka, a homeschool graduate and talented calligrapher/entrepreneur, is co-owner of Brush & Nib Studio in Phoenix, Arizona. Brush & Nib is an upscale hand-painting, hand-lettering, and calligraphy company. Joanna and her business partner, Breanna Koski, are both Christian artists. Breanna is the “Brush” and Joanna is the “Nib.” They create and sell custom artwork—paintings, prints, business logos, wedding invitations, and more—for their clients’ special events and everyday moments.
It was in January 2015, after first meeting at a Bible study where they learned about their mutual passions for art, that the two young women decided to create and sell art together. They had no business background. But they each had a passion – to use their God-given talents to create beautiful artwork for others. Joanna always has been enamored with the power of words and ideas, which makes calligraphy an ideal outlet for her creative talents. This style of penmanship can be defined as “the art of writing in an expressive, decorative, and skillful manner.”
According to her Linkedin profile, Joanna Duka studied music at Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix where she was awarded a Presidents’ Honors Scholarship. She worked as a private piano teacher for four years. Joanna has previously done marketing and nonprofit work. She worked as an office manager at the Pregnancy Resource Clinic of Arizona. She also serves as a Children’s Ministry Volunteer at Harvest Bible Chapel in North Phoenix, and is a member of The Resolute Group.
In her Resolute Group bio, Joanna states: “My faith drives everything. I’ve always been defined by a strong sense of justice and the conviction to act on what I believe. I also believe words change the world. I want our words to be the ones changing it. The process of taking big ideas and translating them into something people connect with is tangible and incredibly pragmatic. When our message is well crafted and effectively shared, we will change hearts and shift culture. A culture that increasingly respects human life, betters families, values faith and advances freedom will be a force that compels our leaders to take notice and act. Messaging is a natural offering of our work to expand the influence of our clients and it’s an effort I’m honored to direct.”
Peter Gentala, the President of Arizona Families for Home Education, recently interviewed Joanna Duka. The full interview is on YouTube, but here is an excerpt:
PG: Joanna, thank you for being with us.
JD: Thanks for having me.
PG.: So, you were homeschooled.
JD: I was, yes, all the way through from preschool to high school.
PG: That’s fantastic, can you share a little bit about your homeschool journey with us?
JD: It was a great journey, I would highly recommend it to anyone. I, uh, it’s kind of funny, I started with a very formal homeschooling in preschool. I had the flags on the wall and the report cards and everything. But it changed throughout the years, and I just had so many neat experiences in it to pursue different interests, to become entrepreneurial, to experience things that you don’t necessarily get to experience outside of the flexibility and the power of homeschooling. So I’m very grateful for it.
PG: And one of those passions that you were able to really focus on with your homeschool education was art.
PG: Tell us about that a little bit.
JD: So I’ve enjoyed art since I was very young. My mom is artistic, so that was something that she definitely encouraged in me. And from the time I was probably 5 or 6, I was not necessarily doing calligraphy, but I was writing in swirls and curls and everything was very fancy. And then when I was a teenager I got an official calligraphy tool set and then I learned how to “officially” practice the art of calligraphy. From there I just grew in it and developed my own style and my own way of doing it. People would say to me, “You should do a business with your calligraphy; your handwriting is really cool.” I would think “oh, someday,” and I was in college and then starting my career. But then the timing was right, and I was leaving the job that I was in, and I felt like the Lord was saying this is the right time to do this. So I went for it; it was very exciting, there’s something exhilarating about being in the process of starting a new business and envisioning everything that’s going to go into that. When you combine that with something you love like art, it’s just a very, it’s an exciting moment as you’re first getting it off the ground.
PG: Right, tell us about your art studio.
JD: So, our studio is called Brush & Nib. I have a business partner named Breanna, she’s a painter, I’m the calligrapher. We found each other, actually, at church, in our college small group. She had just moved from Prescott to Phoenix, and she had been an artist for quite some time, self-taught as I am. We met and we realized we had a similar artistic style, similar passions, so we started to collaborate. I had been starting the business on my own initially, and had hit some snags, and I was frustrated with my inability to paint, so once we connected and started collaborating, we thought this is really cool, we really like working together.
If you are an artistic person, you know that you pour your whole heart and soul into your work. As a Christian artist, you understand that your talent is on loan from God, almost as if God is working through you. “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Your art is a way of worshiping Him, and He speaks to you through your art. So how in good conscience can you create art that violates your beliefs? That’s something government bureaucrats can’t understand.
It was their Christian focus that drove Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski straight into a problem, just like other Christian business owners have found. A City of Phoenix anti-discrimination ordinance required Brush & Nib to create and speak according to the city’s definition of marriage. As devout Christians with biblical views of marriage, they could not in good conscience create custom art that celebrates same-sex weddings. But the pair would face up to six months’ imprisonment and/or $2,500 for each day of their refusal to do so. Even though they hadn’t yet been asked by such a couple, they realized that it was only a matter of time.
While they happily serve all customers, the women do not want to appear as if they endorse or support same-sex marriage, so they feel it is within their rights to refuse to design custom invitations that explicitly celebrate such unions. One could reasonably see how the Phoenix ordinance would violate their deeply held religious beliefs and freedom of expression. The law in question encroaches on at least three provisions of the U.S. Constitution — right of free speech, free exercise of religion, and the prohibition of involuntary servitude — as well as Arizona’s Constitution and the Free Exercise of Religion Act.
Artists should not have to choose between their livelihood and their faith. Indeed, Brush & Nib’s argument may be supported by a similar case. In 2018, the United States Supreme Court set a precedent on this exact issue– about whether companies can deny service to same-sex couples due to religious or free speech reasons. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop, a Colorado baker who refused to make cakes for same-sex weddings.
More recently, in an August 2019 Free Speech victory for Minnesota filmmakers in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Court found that the state could not force filmmakers to express messages through their films that violate their religious convictions “[b]ecause the First Amendment allows the [filmmakers] to choose when to speak and what to say.”
After hearing about nondiscrimination laws in other locales being used against people of faith, Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski began to realize how vulnerable they are. They partnered with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to file a legal complaint in Arizona state court attempting to overturn Phoenix’s nondiscrimination ordinance. Overturning the law was the only option because they do not want to be punished under it, they do not want to close their business, and they refuse to “compromise their artistic and religious beliefs.”
Duka and Koski have presented their case in court twice already – in Maricopa County Superior Court and the Arizona Court of Appeals. Unfortunately, the judges ruled in favor of Phoenix in both cases, stubbornly stating that the designers would be in violation of the law if they chose to refuse service to same-sex couples. Now they are challenging that law in the Arizona Supreme Court.
The Arizona Supreme Court heard the arguments in Brush & Nib v. City of Phoenix on January 22, 2019, to decide whether cities can force businesses to do work for those whose views, practices or lifestyles conflict with the owners’ religious beliefs. As of July 26, 2019, the Brush & Nib case has taken 185 days with no apparent end in sight. [And still nothing has changed at the time this article was published on September 1st.]
Arizona State University law professor Paul Bender told Arizona Capital Times that while six months is not usual, it’s also not unusual. “It probably happens every couple of years that they hold a case this long,” he said. However, if this case reaches the end of September with no decision then that will be a record-breaking long time.
“[It’s] a difficult case for them,’ Bender said. “My guess is there’s dissent and that (typically) holds things up.” Professor Bender said that the state’s highest court does not have any rules requiring it to reach a decision within an allotted time. Because of this, the Arizona court can theoretically hold off on a decision forever. Let’s hope and pray they rule in favor of Brush & Nib soon, so Joanna Duka can get back to concentrating on what she does best – making beautiful word art for God’s glory!
The Arizona Supreme Court today handed down a major victory for free speech and religious freedom in Brush & Nib v City of Phoenix. The state’s high court ruled that a Phoenix ordinance forcing artists to create custom wedding invitations for same-sex weddings under threat of punishment violates Arizona’s Constitution and Free Exercise of Religion Act (FERA). The court confirmed that artists do not give up their free speech and religious freedom rights when they enter the marketplace, and artistic freedom is not restricted only to those who hold the government’s favored viewpoints.
The Arizona Supreme Court made clear the government “must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions.” It adds, “public accommodations are not immune to the First Amendment.” The court effectively agreed that disagreement is not discrimination stating, “The fact that Plaintiffs’ message based refusal primarily impacts customers with certain sexual orientations does not deprive Plaintiffs of First Amendment protection.”
Do you agree with the decision? Why or why not?